About speech and symbols

You may have seen this pretty funny narration by Russel Peters.

When I was thinking about thinking about how people listen to, and comprehend phonetics, and how it is influenced by their own speech habits, one of the things I noticed was that people seem to hear the same sound, my pronunciation of my name, differently (with respect to how I believe I pronounced it). I don’t know at what step their comprehension of the sounds change. Because the agents involved which matter, include their comprehension of the word, and association with something they have heard before. And secondly, the only way I know what they heard, is how they say it back to me. It was most pronounced (as in, noticeable) when Mo heard my name, and tried to spell it, by writing it on the board. I’m not sure what he wrote, but as far as I remember, it was on the lines of Vasheesh. I don’t know why that happened, but that’s how stuff seems to happen. You know what’s most freaky about this? It’s like the colour you might be calling red, might be entirely different from what I call red, and we won’t know until we’re naming the identical colour in front of each other. Maybe kids should be trained to identify sounds and corresponding symbols/phonetics too, like is done with colours.

And on that note, I come back to the thought regarding which I put that video in there. That African dude, in English expressed that pronunciation (apparently) with an !x. But that’s no symbol in English that we’re taught to comprehend, right? I’m fairly certain that in whatever native script he writes his name, there exists a well defined symbol for that pronunciation. Which makes me think, why not such a symbol in English? Or Hindi?

One what basis, did the makers of the language choose this belief for what would be the consonants, the basics of the pronunciation of all the words to exist, and decide that these are adequately many. Clearly, the hindi script with 33 consonants (and not just because of the number) covers many more pronunciations as basic, as compared to the English alphabet, with just 21 consonants. The dude behind the Hindi alphabet definitely was more organized and did his job with deeper thought (I’m not going to say it’s much ‘superior’ to English, because the English alphabet is much more made by evolution over ages, rather than a singular focussed job, which was probably the case with Sanskrit and that Panini dude (and just pre-emptively, I know he’s primarily the grammar dude, but he probably did contribute to the preparation of the alphabet or something)), which is probably why I did mention that the Hindi alphabet even has some worth in memorizing, as opposed to the English alphabet.

But nobody I know (apart from the Africans it seems) so far has been meticulous enough to include pronunciations in their language, like a click.  how badass is that. The only (escapist) reasoning I can imagine for this, is that most pronunciations out of our normal voicebox can, in effect, be expressed using the symbols (and in the case of English, accent marks) that are covered in the alphabet. And they thought that’s enough. But bleh. Losers.

You know other pronunciations which aren’t really out of the larynx, and I think deserve symbols? The ‘tch’ sound. And the cluck (generally used to express disapproval or disagreement). Do tell if you would like having a more fundamental symbol to explain a standard pronunciation you like (or don’t like) to make.

Random note: Mandarin, as far as I can tell, doesn’t seem to be made out of basic letters of pronunciation at all. It seems to be made of glyphs which stand for words or phrases in entirety. I wonder then, how they decided how to pronounce whichever symbol. And how they choose to build new words and choose their pronunciation. Seems kind of living on the edge, if you know what I mean. 😛

 
  • Espèra

    Oh you just have to look at comic books where they attempt to put sounds into words to know about more sounds that cannot be spelled. How about the br-thr kinda sound when you expel air through your mouth while keeping your jaws closed and lips loose? If ya know what I mean.

    Also, despite Devnagari covering consonants more successfully than English, there’s always the ‘pen’-‘pain’ thing which you cannot differentiate between when written in Hindi. There’s only one way to write both words.
    I’ve always wondered the same about Mandarin. There are tons of new words being invented everyday (mostly in English O.o), how do they ever express those?! And how about words like ‘doordarshan’ in Hindi, how did they come up with that? Who decided it was the right word for it? It’s a relatively new invention, compared to the invention of the language.

    • http://blog.visheshk.net Mystic Ranger

      I’ve never noticed the pen-pain thing before! That makes english, with all its accent marks and stuff, seemingly have a wider base than Hindi! :O
      And it is weird when words get made up for new things – there is a Sanskrit word for computer. Fancy that. 😛 But I don’t find that very upsetting because those words are generally made from smaller pieces, and their modern combination does make sense. Now that I think of it, Mandarin seems to have entire words as the basic roots for ‘spelling’, instead of individual letters. So it still probably works in pretty much the same way. Interesting stuff, languages are.

    • http://blog.visheshk.net Mystic Ranger

      I’ve never noticed the pen-pain thing before! That makes english, with all its accent marks and stuff, seemingly have a wider base than Hindi! :OAnd it is weird when words get made up for new things – there is a Sanskrit word for computer. Fancy that. 😛 But I don’t find that very upsetting because those words are generally made from smaller pieces, and their modern combination does make sense. Now that I think of it, Mandarin seems to have entire words as the basic roots for ‘spelling’, instead of individual letters. So it still probably works in pretty much the same way. Interesting stuff, languages are.